Baked Penne with Cauliflower Cream Sauce, Spinach, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Cheesy pasta is a favorite any time of year, but we especially love curling up with a big bowl during fall and winter. This seasonally-inspired dish features roasted cauliflower blended with garlic, Parmesan, and cream, then folded with mozzarella and tossed with penne, sun-dried tomato, and spinach. Baked with a topping of panko breadcrumbs and, yes, more cheese, this veggie-forward pasta is the comforting cold weather dish you've been waiting for.
Total cook time
- 1 1/4 pounds cauliflower florets
- 1/4 ounce oregano
- 1/4 ounce parsley
- 4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 shallots
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 5 ounces baby spinach
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- black pepper
Preheat oven to 450ºF (see Recipe Tip). Bring a large ovenproof pot of water to a boil over high heat—alternatively, boil water in a regular large pot for cooking pasta, then transfer everything to a baking dish for Step 5. Rinse all produce. Cut cauliflower to 1-inch wide florets, if needed. Roughly chop oregano and parsley leaves, discarding stems. Thinly slice sun-dried tomatoes. Peel shallots and halve.
On a baking sheet, toss whole garlic cloves, cauliflower, and shallots with 2 tablespoons olive oil, .75 teaspoon salt, and black pepper as desired. Roast until cauliflower is tender and just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together breadcrumbs, half of mozzarella, half of oregano, half of parsley, 1.5 tablespoons olive oil, and .5 teaspoon salt to combine. Set aside until Step 5.
Season pot of boiling water generously with salt. Stir in penne and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve .66 cup pasta cooking water, then drain penne and return to pot, off heat. Add spinach, crushed red pepper (skip or use half for less heat), sun-dried tomatoes, remaining oregano, and remaining parsley, and stir to combine. Set aside.
Once roasted, transfer cauliflower, shallots, and garlic to a blender or food processor (see Recipe Tip). Add heavy cream, Parmesan, .75 teaspoon salt, and black pepper, and pulse until smooth. With motor running and working 2 tablespoons at a time, add reserved pasta cooking water until sauce is pourable but still thick. Pour cauliflower cream sauce into pot with penne, and stir to coat. Stir in remaining mozzarella to combine.
Grab an eager kitchen helper for this hands-on task: Sprinkle herbed breadcrumbs evenly over penne. Bake until cheese is bubbling and breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 15 minutes. (P.S. This is a great time to get a head start on dishes.)
Let baked penne cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then divide among serving plates and dig in! Penne for your thoughts? Rate this recipe online or in the mobile app, and let our Culinary team know what you think.
All recipe ingredients should be cooked to a safe internal temperature according to USDA guidelines. After preparing a recipe, please store any leftovers in the refrigerator.